Tom was as frustrated as any $5,000 loser can be. He recently sent out 10,000 pieces of direct mail in an effort to book seminar attendance, and he got 13 responses from what turned out to be other agents. He rationalized that there was too much competition and too many seminars.

Perhaps the naysayers are right: Direct mail just doesn’t work anymore. Tom finally gave in to frustration. Cold calling isn’t allowed–the “Do Not Call” rules won’t allow for that. There is even a penalty for sending unwanted faxes. E-mail spamming is rude and unwanted. Maybe he should just sit by the telephone and wait for business to come to him?

Do you feel like Tom at times? Have you bought into the direct mail confusion? It can be the most frustrating form of marketing, or the most lucrative, if you know what you are doing. Here are some ideas to avoid at all costs.

1) Allow your envelope to tell the reader they are about to be sold something. The U.S. Postal Service did a study a few years ago and discovered that many people open their mail by return address first. If the letter says: “U.S. Government. For Official Use Only,” you are likely to open the letter. But if the envelope states: “Acme Insurance Services,” you are apt to give it to your crayon-wielding 2-year-old to practice staying within the lines.

Savvy direct mailers know that the USPS requires you to put your return address on the mailer somewhere. But that doesn’t mean on the front of the envelope. Getting the letter opened is 90 percent of the battle. If they don’t open it, they won’t read it. Letters are much more likely to be read than postcards, but only if you get them to open the envelope.

2) Tip off the reader on the outside to what he will be seeing on the inside. It is becoming a fad these days for a retailer to write “important information inside” or “discount coupons included” on the envelope. But unless you are absolutely sure that your prospect wants the literature you are advertising, it will be thrown away. We are accosted by 7,000 exposures to direct mail, print, billboard, TV and radio advertising on a daily basis. I am absolutely shocked that we open any unexpected mail at all.

Yet direct mail is the single most cost efficient way to advertise your services and product. If you tell the prospect on the outside that they are about to win $1 million dollars by opening the envelope, you may still find many who will toss the letter, jaded by past unkept promises. But if you don’t advertise on the outside and instead put your best material on the inside, they will at least read the first paragraph. Then it’s up to you.